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Column: Our Military Budget Is Bloated, Wasteful



For Tribune News Service
Thursday, January 11, 2018

On Dec. 12, President Donald Trump signed a mammoth military spending bill. Titled the National Defense Authorization Act, it allocates nearly $700 billion. This is more than even Trump had requested, and more than the Pentagon says it needs. The new allocation is for federal fiscal year 2018, a 12-month period we are already in, which ends Sept. 30. The $700 billion figure dwarfs President Barack Obama’s last request, which was for $590 billion.

The increase ignores spending caps Congress set for itself in 2011 — caps aimed at keeping the federal deficit under control.

The cap for fiscal 2018 is $590 billion. If the caps are exceeded, across-the-board reductions in the military budget automatically kick in.

Congress has yet to correlate the new $700 billion figure with those caps. That still needs to be done to avoid the across-the-board reductions.

Members of Congress are being pushed by the military contractor lobby to these new heights of wasteful spending.

The National Defense Authorization Act includes new billions for helicopters, jet planes, ships and personnel beyond what the Pentagon sought.

The Navy asked for eight new ships, but it is getting 13, whether it has any use for them or not.

That includes one extra “littoral combat ship,” which means a ship operating close to shore, one extra destroyer and one extra amphibious ship.

The act authorizes 24 Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet fighters, 10 more than requested, and 90 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, 20 more than requested.

No one has explained that your local representative knows more about the Pentagon’s needs than the Pentagon itself.

Our military was supposed to be getting more high-tech, therefore needing fewer boots on the ground. But under the act, personnel size is going the other direction. The Army gets 7,500 more active-duty troops, and the Marine Corps 1,000 more. The Air Force is increasing by 4,100, and the Navy by 4,000.

The allocation in the act includes continued work on two more supercarriers like the USS Gerald R. Ford, which is just now coming on line. No one is sure if its revolutionary new system for launching jet fighters from its flight deck will work. What is sure is that each additional supercarrier will cost upward of $13 billion.

The act moves $5 billion from a budget category called “European Defense Initiative” to “base budget.” The reason for the shift, the Senate explained, is that deterring “Russian aggression in Europe” is more than a temporary need. The Senate seems to be institutionalizing a new Cold War.

Russia’s military spending is only about 10 percent of ours, at around $70 billion a year, and Russia plans to reduce that by 8 percent in 2018. Even China, which is the next biggest military spender after the United States, allocates only about $220 billion. Why we need more fancy weaponry after declaring victory over ISIS in Syria and Iraq is not clear.

Our excess is apparent from comparing with other countries. We now spend more on military than the 11 next highest spending countries of the world. We account for nearly 40 percent of total world military expenditures.

Our assertive military posture has sparked concern among our closest allies. They fear new conflicts generated by a president who may not always consider the consequences of his actions.

Trump talked up infrastructure spending when he campaigned. But $700 billion for the military puts Congress in a box when it comes to allocations for dams, highways, bridges and water supply systems.

Military spending must be assessed against the total needs of our country. It should not be driven through the roof by lobbyists. We can’t keep spending money we do not have, especially without a rational assessment of what is truly needed.

John B. Quigley is distinguished professor of law at The Ohio State University. He has a law degree from Harvard and is the author of 11 books on international law.